21 Aug Dispatch from Guatemala #3: A Jubilee for Democracy
above photo: Arêvalo greets the crowds at Obelisco Plaza, Guatemala City, Aug. 20, 2023
After the final round in the Guatemalan presidential election, after the results were announced last night, Sunday, August 20, hundreds of citizens congregated in Obelisco Plaza in Guatemala City, as well as the central park of Quetzaltenango, to celebrate Semilla and President-elect Bernardo Arévalo’s victory. Arévalo defeated Torres in the second round with nearly 61 percent of the vote in what was seen as a landslide.
I was there with friends and colleagues as we joined acquaintances and hopeful strangers while we crossed the City from Zona 1 to Zona 4. We got to Obelisco Plaza around 10 pm. People embraced while crying tears of joy during the celebrations. Gathered Guatemalans sang traditional songs like “Luna the Xelajú” and the national anthem in unison, while others banged on pots and pans and blew horns that provided the soundtrack of a country amid catharsis. Waving flags, the jubilant attendees agreed that fighting corruption–the foundational proposal in Arévalo’s winning electoral formula–is the vital activity needed for security, education, and health to become attainable for all Guatemalans.
Semilla and President-elect Arévalo have presented themselves as a progressive and grassroots alternative to Guatemala’s corrupt and increasingly anti-democratic political establishment. Optimism around Arévalo’s campaign coalesced around the anti-corruption messaging: to address crumbling state capacity and captured institutions, Guatemala must root out these entrenched practices. Arévalo invokes his father, Juan José Arévalo–the first democratically elected president who began the 1944 Revolution–to frame what the future holds. For Semilla and its adherents, the election was not about partisanship or ideologies; instead, what people voted for on Sunday’s ballot is whether we want to defend democracy or continue our backsliding into authoritarianism.
I was interviewed on CNN’s “Amanpour” about the results of this historic election. You can watch it here (click on image):